Steer clear of the 5 most common bike-car accidents

Bike commuters have collected a tricky reputation amongst motorists. For the most part, they’re commended for getting around without emitting the 8,320 pounds of CO2 that a car does per year. While sparing the environment, bike commuters save money, get their cardio in before lunch, and are happier, more productive workers. They make those who don’t commute by bike feel like slackers in comparison!

Then there’s the opinion that cyclists, somehow, don’t share the road or obey the rules. Nearly every bike commuter’s morning has been spoiled by a grumpy driver cutting them off and speeding past with a parting wave from a middle finger. But road rage – often a misunderstanding of cyclists’ road rights – is just one factor that a cyclist must contend with. The bigger risk is getting hurt in a crash with a vehicle.

Biking to work has increased 60% in the last decade, and biking injuries have gone up by 28% and hospitalizations from those injuries by 120%. What can bicyclists and motorists do to share the road, and make an activity so overtly good for our health (and planet) safer? We found this well worth investigating.

Whose Fault Is It?

Motorists blame cyclists collisions, cyclists blame motorists. Typical. The following statistics may surprise you:

  • Only 2% of UK cases where a cyclist is seriously injured are due to disobeying a stop sign or stoplight. Compare this to 33% of accidents due to drivers crashing into the rear of a bicycle.
  • The numbers tell a similar story on our side of the Atlantic. In Arizona, 56% of fatalities from bike-car crashes were the fault of the drivers. The most common cause for collision is drivers striking bicyclists from behind.
  • However, San Diego is holding cyclists responsible. Investigators reported cyclists most at fault for 56% of accidents in 2011, 60% of accidents in 2012, and 56% of accidents in 2013.

These numbers can be debated endlessly. One thing for certain is, regardless of fault, the risk to the bicyclist is far greaterOutside magazine puts it well, saying, “cars are massive metal beasts; bikes are not.”

brooklyn bridge

So What’s Going Wrong?

These are the five most common causes of accidents and smart ways to avoid them.

1. Motorists hitting bicyclists from behind. Avoid: Always wear light clothing and use a bright rear light. Ride predictably in a straight line. Use eye contact or arm movements to indicate changes to your course. Check behind often or (better) use a helmet-mounted rear mirror.

2. Motorists exiting driveways or parking lots into a bicyclist’s path. Avoid: Take a route with fewer driveways. Never ride on the sidewalk – drivers don’t look for your here. Be super defensive at all intersections, and ride in a place in the lane where turning drivers can see you.

3. Bicyclists riding into a car door that opens on their path. Avoid: In all 50 states, a bicyclist has the right of way in the right lane. Take the lane if you feel threatened by being “doored.” Always be looking 3-4 cars ahead, so that you’re ready to brake hard or swerve if a door comes your way.

4. Motorists turning right in front of you, colliding with your path. Avoid: At a stoplight: Get in front of their blind spot, so they see you when light turns green. While moving: take the lane and allow them to turn right while you pass on their left.

5. Motorists turning left, colliding into a bicyclist they do not see. Avoid: Always wear light clothing and use a bright front headlight. If driver still doesn’t see you and cuts you off, try to turn right into the lane with them to avoid t-bone.

Where Accidents Are Happening Most & What To Do About It?

Close to 750 people lost their lives in bike and car collisions in 2013. The majority of these accidents occur in urban areas. Six states — California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas — accounted for more than half of the fatalities from 2010 through 2012. During that period, California has the most bicyclist deaths (338), followed closely by Florida (329).

It’s probably no surprise that the top bicycling cities in the US are Salt Lake City, Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, DC, New York City, and Chicago. What’s the common thread between them? A “build it and they will come” mentality!

These cities have invested heavily in creating biking infrastructure, building citizen awareness around the biking community, and promoting special projects that include “green lanes” in San Francisco and bike share programs in Philadelphia. Such efforts don’t just make the biking community feel better; 79 to 97 percent of drivers say they feel safer driving near bikes situated in protected bike lanes.

Rather than pitting bicyclists against drivers, our focus should be on building infrastructure for a growing number of bicyclists in American cities, so the risks of collision can be significantly decreased.

Biking is one the best options for the daily commute; as the biking population continues to grow in major cities, let’s all do our part to stop the road rage, avoid accidents, and encourage newbies out of their cars and into the saddle.


[Stride takes eco-friendly commuting very seriously. 90% of our employees bike, walk, or ride public transit to our headquarters in San Francisco. We won the 2016 San Francisco Bike Coalition's Bike Friendly Business Award!]